There’s so much to love in Captain Marvel, especially Captain Marvel

There’s so much to love in Captain Marvel, especially Captain Marvel
Has it really been 10 years and 20 movies? Seems like only yesterday we were being introduced to Iron Man, Ant-Man, Spider-Man, Hulk Man … you get the picture. But all that changes – finally! – with the introduction of a stand-alone female Marvel superhero. And in spite of what some dark, hairy corners of the internet would have you believe, she’s awesome. Truly the best thing about Captain Marvel is Captain Marvel.

Brie Larson stars as the Captain, though she’s also known as Vers (pronounced “Veers”), member of a group of self-proclaimed intergalactic do-gooders called the Kree (pronounced “the Kree”). We meet her in an opening sequence that’s so heavy on alien terminology you might mistake it for an exotic recipe: take a dash of Soh-larr, blend in Korath and Yon-Rogg, add Torfa (if desired) and voila! Freshly baked Hala.

Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). Chuck Zlotnick/Marvel

Hala is actually the name of Vers’ homeworld, although she keeps having flashbacks to a planet everyone in the movie insists on calling C-53. (Hint: It has the highest concentration of pubs outside the Trappist system.) It’s also where she happens to crash-land after a tussle with a race of shapeshifters called the Skrulls. She ends up inside a Blockbuster, next to a Radio Shack, which does seem like it might be a different planet. In fact, it’s this one in June, 1995.

That means arms dealer Tony Stark is still building his fortune, Captain America is still frozen in ice, and Spider-Man hasn’t even been born. But Nick Fury is already an agent of SHIELD, played by a digitally de-aged Samuel L. Jackson, an effect that takes some getting used to. Never one to look a gift Kree in the mouth, he quickly throws in his lot with Vers, who has to track down an Earth scientist (Annette Bening) and her plans for a light-speed engine before the Skrulls get to her.

It must be said that light-speed seems an odd MacGuffin for a cinematic universe where characters are forever hopping from one star system to another, but whatever. The screenplay, by a mostly female quintet that includes co-directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, also gets a bit hazy with the nature of Marvel’s powers, although they certainly blossom during the course of this origin story.

Leader of Starforce (Jude Law), Ronan (Lee Pace), Korath (Djimon Hounsou), Att-Lass (Algenis Perez Soto), Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel (Larson), Bron-Char (Rune Temte) and Minn-Erva (Gemma Chan). Chuck Zlotnick/Marvel

By an odd coincidence, Captain Marvel is the second movie in a month to feature a female protagonist trying to solve the mystery of her own backstory. Both even include a scene of someone being tossed across a room into a jukebox. (See Alita: Battle Angel. Actually, don’t.)

This one works as well as it does thanks to Larson’s very human take on the role – she’s resolute, often perplexed, open-minded; in a word, redoubtable. She takes an Earth name, because Vers sounds silly. Oh, and she smiles, with one hilarious exception that must have been added late in production after internet trolls said she looked too serious in the trailer.

In fact, Captain Marvel works right up to the point where it doesn’t. The last third of the film devolves into a series of battles between Captain Marvel and her enemies, but also apparently between the film’s editor and cinematographer (visually, these scenes are almost incoherent), and between the directors and the studio.

Boden and Fleck got their start with a pair of low-budget charmers – Half Nelson (2006), starring Ryan Gosling as a drug-addicted high-school teacher, and the immigrant/baseball drama Sugar (2008). They’re worth checking out – just as you couldn’t go wrong with any of the indie back catalogue of Ragnarok director Taika Waititi – but neither one features a character who can shoot photon blasts from her hands. And that lack of experience shows in the film’s climax.

There are also some issues with character motivation that would be difficult to unpack without landing on Planet Spoiler; suffice to say if you have a BS detector (I believe the Marvel-approved term is Spidey sense), it may be quivering at some point. But Captain Marvel takes it all in stride, aided by some fine comrades. Clark Gregg returns as Agent Coulson, the greatest unsung Marvel hero. Lashana Lynch plays a fighter pilot with the badass name of Maria Rambeau; if that’s not enough, her call sign is Photon.

In short, there’s so much to love in Captain Marvel – including a mid-credits sting that nicely sets up the next Avengers movies, now just seven weeks away – that it’s nigh impossible to hate the movie, despite its many flaws. Magnanimity may be a trait of superheroes, but it’s one audiences will need to embody themselves if they’re to truly enjoy this latest chapter.

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